Lessons learned from emergency first responders

Usually we forget to take care about ourselves until is too late. Being yourself and be open about it, can have huge difference in any relationship, personal or professional.

I wanted to share something that was a huge eye opener for me a few years ago. Despite seeming unrelated, this is relevant to what we do here every day. I’m going to talk about First Aid Procedures.

There are plenty of different situations in which First Aid is needed. The steps and techniques required to rescue a diver are not the same as to rescue somebody from a car accident. But all of them have a common first step.

Imagine that you are walking home during the night, and you find somebody lying on the floor. The first thing that happens is instinctive and out of your control: your brain will get an extra dose of adrenaline. Then, your conscious brain will kick in and think “I need to help that person”, and the next instinct will be running to help the person and check if they are ok.

But a side effect of the adrenaline is tunnel vision. You’ll jump to help that person without realizing that there was an oil spillage in the floor, suddenly you fall down too, hitting your head in the curb. Now, you not only failed to help the original victim, you are the victim too. The next person will have the double the work! (Hopefully, the next person will see the spillage and go around it).

This is one of the classic examples used in this type of training. The key takeaways are:

  1. Before acting, stop for a second, take a breath and assess the situation.
  2. Above all, take care of your self. Pay attention to the environment, and make sure you are not at risk. If you are not safe, you can’t help anybody.

Now, I want to go back to our workplace.

Imagine this situation: We have an ambitious 50/50 goal for the year, and we know that if we make it, we’ll have a positive impact on plenty of people. But we are running behind schedule. We are passionate about our work, and we care about our team mates.

Again, we have our brain releasing adrenaline, and our first instinct is to jumping into it headlong, working twice as hard and longer hours.

But similar to the first aid example, with the best intentions in mind, by doing this we put ourselves and our team at risk. We put relationships with other people at risk as we become tired and irritable and impatient. We put ourselves at risk of burnout, with the potential effect of being far less productive and useful in the future, and needing people to cover for us while we recover later.

How can we do the right thing for our team whilst still taking care of ourselves?

Both goals are not exclusive, but optimizing for both requires explicit thinking that is not always obvious or natural.

How does this usually look in the workplace?

  • Feeling forced to stay late: Maybe in your team, you have people who prefer to come to the office later and you don’t, maybe they are night owls and you aren’t…
  • Feeling that you should go to all the meetings: Have you found yourself going to too many meetings because you feel that you should be there, but after the meeting, feeling guilty for not being able to do all your work.
  • Not disconnecting: and as a consequence, not being fully engaged at home with your loved ones.
  • And many more…

The underlying root cause in those examples is fear. Fear of missing out decisions, fear of missing out information, fear of not feeling part of the team, fear of “failing” to your friends, etc.

What is the solution for this?

Be honest with ourselves and open with our teams about our needs, goals, and aspirations. Acknowledge that we are humans, with different motivations and needs. And combine that shared knowledge to work in a sustainable, efficient and effective way.

I would love for you can do 3 things after reading this:

  1. Set aside 30 minutes (or as much as you need), to think about you, what do you need, how do you want to work and how do you want to live.
  2. Have a chat with your colleagues/cofounders/any other significant person about this.

Remember, be open, we are all in the same boat and surrounded by amazing people.

Let’s take care of ourselves and each other.